I am wondering if there is anything similar to ink over apps for linux. i.e. , a program that allows me to draw over any other program given Xs architecture, it should be possible, but I looked for it and could not find it.

EDIT: I have two good suggestions by Roman Raguet: one in his answer, and one in the comments.

I'd like more suggestions, and, if possible, one that does not require a composite window manager

  • 1
    the perfect answer for 95% of people is probably Roman's.
    – josinalvo
    Aug 4, 2013 at 19:08
  • now ... is there any way to do this on vanilla X ?
    – josinalvo
    Aug 4, 2013 at 19:08
  • I am runnung ubuntu, but instead of running Unity (that my machine cannot handle) I run fluxbox. My PC does not have much of a graphic card, but I'll test this xcompmgr
    – josinalvo
    Aug 5, 2013 at 22:13
  • 1
    Tried all on Ubuntu 17.04, only Pylote worked for me. May 11, 2017 at 16:55
  • I installed compiz. which one is button1? ? Aug 22, 2018 at 5:45

3 Answers 3



Option 1 (compiz composite manager)

As far as I read about the ink over apps application... you can try with the "Annotate" plugin in compiz.

1) Intall the compizconfig-settings-manager, compiz-plugins and the compiz-plugins-extra packages running code below.

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-plugins compiz-plugins-extra

2) Open the compizconfig-settings-manager application.

enter image description here

3) Go to the "Extras" category and enable the "Annotate" plugin.

enter image description here

4) Click in the plugin to view and set the configuration.

enter image description here

  1. configure the plugin according to your needs.. here you have an example.

enter image description here

You can launch whatever application, draw in it and use the shorcuts for the gnome-screenshot app like Alt + Print to take the screenshot of the windows you drew.

Option 2 (with any composite manager eg: xfce, compiz, xcompmgr etc)

Another software to draw over the desktop is Ardesia.

Ardesia is the free digital sketchpad software that help you to make coloured free-hand annotations with digital ink everywhere, record them and share on the network. It is easy to use and impressively fast and reactive. You can draw upon the desktop or import an image and annotate it and redistribute your work to the world. Let's create quick sketch and artwork.

1) To install Ardesia, open a Terminal and type:

  • sudo apt-get install ardesia

2) To open the app eg: Xubuntu.

Go to Menu > Accessories > Ardesia Desktop Sketchpad

enter image description here

3) You can draw over and app or your desktop and you can take screenshots with the Ardesia toolbar.

enter image description here

Option 2.5

If you have a slow computer, you might want to try option 2 using lxde and xcompmgr (a lightweight composite manager)

To run lxde and xcompmgr,

1) Install both programs

sudo apt-get install lxde xcompmgr

2) follow the instructions at How to start applications such as xcompmgr at start up? to get xcompmgr to start in lxde

This option works rather well, even on slow computers.

Option 3 (without composite manager)

Another application to draw but without a composite manager is Pylote.

Pylote is a software making it possible to draw on the screen of the computer, like handling various instruments of geometry. It is a software multiplateforme, free (license GNU GPL), made in Python (computer programming language) and PyQt4 (or PySide) for the graphical interface.

To run Pylote you need first python (greater than or equal to 2.6) installed by default in Ubuntu, and python-qt4.

1) Open a Terminal window and type:

  • sudo apt-get install python-qt4

2) Download the pylote.tar.gz file. (Pylote install GNU / Linux)

3) uncompress the tar.gz file

  • tar xvzf /path/to/pylote.tar.gz

4) Enter in the pylote folder and make sure the file pylote.pyw has execute perms.

  • cd /path/to/folder/pylote

  • chmod 755 pylote.pyw

5) Run the pylote app with double click in the pylote.pyw file

enter image description here

enter image description here

6) Take an screenshot after drawing over an app or your desktop. eg: scrot

  • sudo apt-get install scrot

Then you can hit Alt+F2 and type

  • scrot -s /path/to/your/screenshot.jpg

with the -s option you can select the area to take the screenshot and save at .jpg.

Hope this will helpful.

  • this is very cool! Thanks. I am keeping the question open for a while, to see if anyone has an idea that does not involve compiz (because my poor computer can't manage to run it), but, if no one does, I'll drop by later to mark this as accepted
    – josinalvo
    Aug 4, 2013 at 19:07
  • @josinalo... You can try my third option "Pylote" without a composite manager. Aug 7, 2013 at 12:04
  • well, in the end I managed to run xcompmgr on my PC. It worked rather well. I Just added details on how I got it working on a "option 2.5" Thanks a bunch!
    – josinalvo
    Aug 11, 2013 at 22:23
  • 1
    Technically, Pylote does not really draw over the desktop, but on automatically generated screenshots of the desktop. You can minimize the Pylote window to see the real windows and the real desktop behind.
    – tanius
    Oct 27, 2015 at 21:04
  • 1
    What is Button1? Jul 24, 2020 at 9:02

You can use gromit-mpx. It allows screen annotating with line and textmarker tools of configurable color, varying them in thickness based on pressure (if you have a Wacom pen or similar). As requested, it does not require a compositing desktop manager, but will benefit if you have one.

Usage under Debian / Ubuntu

  1. Install it:

    sudo apt-get install gromit-mpx

  2. Start it with gromit-mpx.

  3. Press the Pause key (or F9 key) and start painting on the screen. This is Debian/Ubuntu specific, as per man gromit-mpx.

  4. Press Pause again to stop painting on the desktop, using it again "like normal".

Alternatively, you can control the software from the command line (gromit-mpx --toggle to start/stop painting) or from a taskbar icon. The "Toggle Painting" menu item in the taskbar was the only one to not work for me, though.

More details on how to use this software. Also, see this video.

User experience without compositing

gromit-mpx works work with both compositing and non-compositing window managers, but in the latter case it can be slow / sluggish [source].

I used it without compositing. Using and scrolling the original windows below the annotations was always fast for me. Painting with gromit-mpx itself was initially fast but then became very sluggish (= painting low-polygon lines). After clearing the screen (gromit-mpx --clear) or erasing enough pixels, painting became fast again. The issue seems connected to the amount of painted pixels (not the amount of line segments). If you only need it for circling some 4-5 things on the screen and adding a word or two, no problem, but after that you want to use it with a compositing window manager. (xcompmgr is a lightweight one. See "Option 2.5" in @Roman Raguet's answer on how to set it up.)

  • 4
    Working for me with Mint 17 xfce (with compositing turned on), whereas I couldn't get mouse drawing to work in ardesia (only text worked, and even that vanished after a few seconds). Apr 25, 2017 at 14:37
  • Couldn't get Gromit work on Ubuntu 17.04. For any option, it says "unknown option". And I have no Pause key. May 10, 2017 at 3:27
  • 4
    +1 for Gromit, it's the only solution on this page that worked on my Manjaro i3 + picom setup! o/ Oct 23, 2020 at 7:45

You can use GNOME Shell extensions Draw On You Screen:

Start drawing with Super+Alt+D. Then save your beautiful work by taking a screenshot.


  • Basic shapes (rectangle, circle, ellipse, line, curve, polygon, polyline, text, image, free)
  • Basic transformations (move, rotate, resize, stretch, mirror, inverse)
  • Smooth stroke
  • Draw over applications
  • Keep drawings on desktop background with persistence (notes, children's art ...)
  • Multi-monitor support
  • Export to SVG


Install as any other GNOME Shell extension. For detailed instructions see the README, Install on author's framagit repo.

ℹ️ Note: GNOME Shell 41 and later are not supported (currently only 3.24 - 3.38)

  • You posted a link-only answer, so I added some details to improve.
    – hc_dev
    Mar 5, 2021 at 19:39

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